Where Joy and Pain Collide

Tatyana lives in post communist Moldova, a country still experiencing the aftermath of the cruel regime,  twenty years later. Tatyana is a middle aged woman, although her rough hands and tight wrinkles lining her eyes and round face declare otherwise. Tatyana bears deep scars on the palms of her tiny hands. She always carries with her, kind eyes; the kind of eyes that reveal that she holds within her many layers of experiences and wisdom. Tatyana is a member of the persecuted church. The scars from her hands were caused by smoothing cement barehanded while communist soldiers looked on in mockery. Tatyana and her friends were building a church in 1985. They were given permission by the Soviets to build the church so long as they didn’t use any building equipment.

I had the privilege of being with Tatyana in 2005 on the 20th anniversary of the building of this church. It is a beautiful church. About 200 others were there that day. They were the people who had built that church alongside Tatyana and who bore scars of their own to prove it.

These people were heavily persecuted during this time. They were tortured, separated from loved ones and dispersed to foreign lands. Tatyana remained in Moldova during the heaviest times of persecution. What I saw in Tatyana and in her scars and what I saw in those who had gathered from near and far for the reunion, was not the pain that they had once endured, rather, I witnessed an overwhelming, incredible, indescribable joy.

I asked Tatyana about her regrets later that evening. She told me she had none. I asked her if communism were to re enter Moldova again would she flee. She smiled and told me the most joyful times in her life were also the most painful. She would endure the torture and the pain all over again if it meant bringing her that type of joy.

In my experiences traveling to developing countries and spending time with the oppressed, I have seen this joy despite age, culture and location. I do not seek to glamorize poverty in any way and yet, I cannot help but be intrigued by the fact that the most joyful people I have met are those who have experienced or are experiencing incredible amounts of pain and suffering. 

It’s as if those who have much are less satisfied than those who have little. The empty are filled. The weak are made strong. The poor become rich.  So what happens where joy and pain collide?

Consider John 16:20-22 for a moment.

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
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